The five teams that make up the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic division is having the most success that they have experienced in a long time. The Atlantic division teams are a combined 137-116 for a 54.1% winning percentage, which is the highest second percentage among the six divisions.
Boston and Toronto are firmly among the top three teams in the Eastern Conference. The Raptors currently have the best record in the conference at 39-16. The C’s are 13-9 since Christmas Day.
The Raptors own a 16-6 record since Jan. 1, Overall, the Raptors have the highest scoring margin in the Eastern Conference at plus-8.1.
The reason the Atlantic division is arguably the best division in the league this year is the improvement that Philadelphia along with New York and Brooklyn have shown. The 76ers (26-25) are currently eighth in the conference. The Knicks (23-33) are among the teams competing for the final playoff spot. In the meantime, the Nets (19-37) have taken significant steps forward.
Three Atlantic division teams have not made the playoffs since 2014-15 when the Raptors, Celtics and Nets got in. The 2012-2013 season was the last time that all five division teams posted at least 20 wins.
While the Atlantic division has had a banner start to the season, each of the five teams have areas where they can improve.
Celtics: Scoring is the team’s biggest need
The Celtics started out the season on fire, rolling up 16 straight wins after losing their opening two games and losing key free agent signee Gordon Hayward for the season with a fractured ankle. The C’s have been able to remain on top of the conference as a result of a top-notch defense and well-balanced scoring.
Hayward is reportedly making progress in his recovery, but coach Brad Stevens recently told ESPN that team does not expect him to return this year.
Which is a shame for the Celtics as Hayward would provide exactly what the team desperately needs, more scoring. The C’s rank 25th in the league in scoring (101.9) and 28th in field goal percentage (43.5%). They are a little better offensively when looking at advanced stats as they are 20th in offensive rating (104.6) while standing in the middle of the pack in other advanced offensive categories.
A healthy Hayward would give Boston a second consistent scorer and theoretically take some pressure off of star Kyrie Irving. Hayward, who has some nice components to his game, had his best season of career last year. As the former Butler Bulldog averaged 21.2 points, on 47.1% shooting, and made a career-best two three-pointers a game at a 39.4% clip. While Hayward has developed into a consistent scorer, producing just six single-digit scoring games and a career-best 13 30-point games in 2016-17, he has never topped the 40-point mark and does not have the ability to take over a game offensively.
A major reason that the Celtics struggle to score, other than they don’t have another great offensive creator other than Irving, is they don’t get very many easy baskets. Plus, the C’s have the sixth youngest roster in the league per Hoop Rumors.
The Celtics, who don’t create many turnovers, are 26th in points off opponent turnovers (14.7) and 25th in fastbreak points (9.6). They are 20th in second-chance points (11.5) and 29th in points in the paint (39.0).
Irving leads six players in double-figures with 24.8 points a game. Jaylen Brown (14.2), Jayson Tatum (13.6), Al Horford (13.3), Marcus Morris (12.2) and Marcus Smart (10.1) are the other Celtics in double-figures. Terry Rozier, who registered his first career triple-double on Jan. 31, is producing 9.9 points a game.
Irving missed three games with a quadriceps injury, returning to action in Tuesday’s night loss to Toronto (111-91) where he threw in 17 points in 22 minutes. Smart, who is expected to be out until the all-star break, has missed the last eight games with a hand injury. Brown and Morris have also missed time this season.
The Celtics made just one roster move at the trade deadline, signing free agent center Greg Monroe. Monroe made his debut with the team, scoring five points and grabbing six rebounds in 20 minutes of action in the C’s overtime win over Washington on Thursday.
Toronto Raptors: Three-point shooting accuracy is the biggest issue
The Raptors are arguably the most complete team in the Eastern Conference. Without question, the Raptors have been the most consistent. They have yet to experience a losing streak of more than two games, which has occurred three times.
Toronto is second in the league in scoring margin, behind Golden State and Houston, as the Raptors are averaging 111.4 points (third) and giving up 103.3 (8th). The Raptors rank just as high in advance metrics, ranking fourth in offensive rating along with third in defensive rating.
Although the Raptors don’t have any big-time scorers other than DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, who got off to a slow start to the season, they are deep. The Raptors go about 11 deep and each of those are producing at least six points and 1.5 boards a game.Serge Ibaka (12.8 ppg), CJ Miles (10.0 ppg) and Jonas Valanciunas (11.8 ppg) are also producing double-figures.
The biggest issue facing the Raptors, and perhaps the one major problem, is three-point shooting. The Raptors are making 11.1 treys a game, which is tied for seventh most, though they are making those shots at just a 35.3% clip -- which ranks only 24th in the league. They are attempting the fifth most three-pointers a game at 32.0 per game.
Six Raptors are making at least one three-pointer a game. Lowry tops the team with 2.9 triples a game and is knocking them down at a respectable 38.5% clip. Miles is the only other player who is making at least two treys a game (2.4) and is shooting 38.1% from long-range. Ibaka (1.4), Fred VanVleet (1.1), DeRozan (1.1) along with OG Anunoby (1.0) are the other players. Valanciunas owns the team’s highest three-point percentage (44.4%) as he is 16-of-36 for the season. VanVleet, who is shooting at a 40.4% clip from downtown, is the only other player making at least 40% from long-range.
Toronto made a minor trade deadline move, acquiring Malachi Richardson for Bruno Caboclo. Richardson has struggled to get any traction since being selected with the No. 22 pick in the 2016 draft. The 6-6 small forward averages 3.5 points on 36.5% shooting in 47 career contests.
Philadelphia 76ers: Turnovers are at the heart of the issues
The 76ers have been better than expected this season. The Sixers, who started the season off a little shaky losing three of four, are 2-4 in their last six games. The Sixers are two wins shy of matching last year’s total and are on pace to post their most wins since going 41-41 in 2010-11.
Philadelphia, the second youngest team in the league at the start of the season, has dealt with injuries to Joel Embiid, JJ Redick and Markelle Fultz. The 76ers are 2-8 without Embiid.
Embiid has been excellent this season, surpassing the enormous expectations that were placed on him. The 23-year-old center leads the team with 23.7 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.3 assists while also recording 1.9 blocks a game. He has scored 20 or more points on 30 occasions and has posted 26 double-doubles
Redick, who owns the seventh-highest active three-point percentage in the league at 41.4%, has been extremely consistent. The 33-year-old shooting guard is averaging a career-best 17.0 points a game as he is making 2.6 treys a game at 40.6% clip.
Ben Simmons is also having an excellent season while Dario Saric has played extremely well the last two months. In the meanwhile, Robert Covington has struggled the past two months -- particularly over the last month.
The 76ers rank seventh in scoring, 14th in offensive rating, 19th in scoring defense and fourth in defensive rating. The reason for such a big difference in between the Sixers’ scoring defense and defensive rating as well as offensive rating and offensive scoring is turnovers.
The 76ers, who have turned the ball over 16.7 times a game since January 1, lead the league with 17.5 turnovers a game. This equates to a league-worst turnover rate of 17.2%. As a result, the Sixers’ opponents are averaging an NBA-high 19.4 points off of their turnovers.
Embiid is the biggest culprit, committing 4.0 turnovers. Simmons (3.7 turnovers) and Saric (2.0) are also committing two turnovers a game. While T.J. McConnell (2.0) and Covington (1.9) are averaging almost two turnovers a game.
The Sixers have only committed fewer turnovers than their opponents a league-low 11 times, posting a 5-6 record in those games.
Brooklyn Nets: Shooting is a major problem
Brooklyn is one victory short of tying last season’s win total and three wins shy of posting their most wins in three seasons.The Nets are currently struggling, losing four straight and eight of nine.
The Nets lost guard Jeremy Lin in the opening game of the season and have played 34 games without leading scorer D’Angelo Russell. Russell has played at a high-level this year, demonstrating the enormous potential that caused the Lakers to draft him No. 2 in the 2014 draft. Rondae Hollis- Jefferson and Spencer Dinwiddie are having career-years.
Rookie Jarrett Allen has increased his production in each of the first four months. The 6-11 center averaged 8.8 points, on 72.2% shooting, and 5.6 rebounds in the month of January. He has posted three double-doubles in his last nine games while scoring in double-figures in nine straight.
The Nets got off to a surprising start, going 11-18 through the first two months of the campaign. However, they have lost 14 of their last 18.
Shooting has been a problem all season for the Nets. But they have really struggled since Dec. 20, knocking down a league-low 43.3% of their shots. The Nets are shooting a league-worst 43.7% from the field for the season and 34.6% from beyond the arc, which is 28th in the league. As a result of this poor shooting, the Nets are 25th in offensive rating at 103.0 points per 100 possessions. And 22nd in scoring efficiency at 1.083 points per possession.
The Nets have three players making 50% or better of their shots though each of those players are interior players. Allen is shooting a team-high 57.9% from the field. Joe Harris and Isaiah Whitehead have been the most consistent shooters among perimeter players, making 47.1% and 46.9% of their shots, respectively. Hollis-Jefferson is canning 47.2% of his shots.
Russell is shooting 42.3% from the floor while Caris LeVert is making 42.8% of his shots. In the meantime, DeMarre Carroll (41.1%), Spencer Dinwiddie (40.0%) and Allen Crabbe (38.6%) are shooting below 42%.
Brooklyn made a few minor deals. The Nets traded Tyler Zeller to Milwaukee for Rashad Vaughn and a protected 2018 selection. They then sent Vaughn to New Orleans for Dante Cunningham.
New York Knicks: Three-point shooting
New York was looking to end a four-year playoff drought before a swoon of injuries. The Knicks have lost five straight, falling from three games to 5.5 in back of the eighth spot. They are currently 11th in the conference.
The Knicks will be without star forward Kristaps Porzingis the rest of the year after the Unicorn suffered an ACL tear in his left knee. Prior to the injury, Porzingis had taken another step in his development. The 7-3 big man, who has slightly increased his scoring efficiency this season, scored 20 or more points on 30 occasions and has 11 games of at least 30 points. He also has produced five double-doubles.
Tim Hardaway is having a career season despite missing 22 games, in which the Knicks have gone 10-12 in those contests. Michael Beasley, Enes Kanter and Courtney Lee are also having great seasons.
Lee, who is averaging a career-best 13.1 points, is the only guard scoring in double figures..
Guard play is one of the weaknesses of the Knicks as their backcourt is averaging a league-low 40.4 points a game while shooting 41.4% from the field, which ranks 24th in the league, and 34.8% from beyond the arc -- 28th in the league. On a positive front, the Knicks’ backcourt is 12th in assist with 15.6 a game and 15th in turnovers at 7.1.
Starting point guard Jarrett Jack has done a fantastic job distributing the ball though he is struggling shooting. Trey Burke has been excellent in his short stint with the team and rookie Frank Ntilikina has had his ups-and-downs.
However, the biggest issue for the Knicks has been three-point shooting. New York ranks 20th in the league, making 35.8% of their long-range shots. The Knicks are last in both three-point makes (7.8) and three-point attempts (21.9).
The reason that the Knicks are shooting so few, trifectas is that they don’t have many shooters. Hardaway, the team’s top shooter, is nearly attempting half of his field goal shots from long distance. The 25-year-old wing is knocking down 2.2-of-6.9 attempts at just a 31.5% clip. He has made only 8 of his last 42 (19.0%) 3-point attempts.
Porzingis (1.9), Lee (1.6) and Doug McDermott (1.0) are the only players who are averaging at least one trey a game. McDermott, perhaps the only other Knick who was considered a shooter, was part of a three-way deal that brought Emmanuel Mudiay to New York.
Porzingis is a scorer and Lee is more of a long-range two-point shooter.